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Promo execs stress dialogue with broadcasters.

Helping networks abroad to promote, publicize and advertise the American shows they've bought is becoming a major preoccupation of the U.S. program distributors who are increasingly aware that, in the newly competitive environment, "hype" almost equals "the sale" in importance.

In fact, the three are quite closely linked these days since foreign broadcasters are putting ever-greater emphasis on star values, customized on-air promos, the establishment of audience loyalty for long-running series, and publicity in general.

There seems to be no question that the international customers, when purchasing programs, now take into account the volume and quality of the promotional support, including campaign ideas, that emanate from the States.

These broadcasters--according to the international promotion experts at the companies--now actively participate in the efforts to intensify and to improve the "tools" which the Americans make available in support of their programs. Where, in the past, the networks used to simply take and adapt the material sent them from the U.S., these days they fax and call with specific requests.

"The foreign market needs a lot more color than we used to supply," said Rita Scarfone, Worldvision's advertising/publicity v.p. "They have many more magazines than we do, and the demand for cover color is growing. I've known situations where broadcasters abroad have run on-air promos when they are assured of a cover story in an important publication."

At New World, Jerry Zanitsch, the ad/pub v.p., tells the same story. "On every series we control, we now shoot some twenty new pieces of star color each month and ship it out," he said. "There is just a bottomless demand for it all."

New World is the first company to borrow a leaf from the movie companies' book and service electronic press kits to the foreign customers. "They're expensive-we've spent $35,000 on our first one, which is for the Secrets series--but it contains a lot of interviews and other material, and we think it's well worth doing," said Zanitsch.

Like New World, other producer/distributors make a serious attempt to plug into the needs of the local broadcasters though--per Scarfone--the Americans' biggest headache in recent months has been to establish just who's in charge of promotion at the various networks and stations abroad.

A special committee of international promotion executives is working to establish a definitive list, which is being distributed to all participating companies and is described as "enormously helpful."

The whole promotion activity aiming to support foreign sales has been enhanced by the increasingly competitive climate in Europe and elsewhere due to the rise of commercial stations.

"It all starts at the L.A. Screenings, when we put a show's best foot forward with a press kit," said Scarfone. "We put out an impressive package of written and visual material to support the pilot," she said. "Then, once a show is sold, we follow up with both ideas and materials."

Brenda Geffner, international marketing v.p. for Warner Brothers TV. said the competition between governmental channels and the new commercial stations had intensified program promotion, particularly at the public service networks and that much more research was going into the effort to attract audiences. At the same time, given audience loyalties to certain channels, new stations were trying much harder to focus attention on their shows.

Geffner also noted a much wider use of promotional tools, such as billboards and radio spots, and added that personalized promos were becoming more widespread. "Many stations abroad don't really understand how to promote properly," she added. "They look to us to show them how to do it, and we are doing our best to help them within our budget limitations."

Warner Bros. TV Intl. is intensifying its continuing promotional support for stations abroad, including the providing of location footage that could go into electronic press kits.

The Americans are generally satisfied with the way Europeans and others put to use the tools which are supplied them. "They like hearing from us," said one international promo expert, adding-- mysteriously and somewhat puzzling-- "We aren't supposed to be talking about this to the press! We don't tell stations overseas what to do. We just inform them how publicity on a given show was handled in the U.S. and then let them decide how they wish to handle the ideas."

One of the things the Americans do not do is supply the local broadcasters with clips from given shows. This is routinely done by the film people, and some of the TV distributors say they may well start supplying clips for on-air use in plugging forthcoming programs.

What the stations want, increasingly ask for and get, are "customized" promos in which stars deliver messages to viewers.

"We now ask them to send us the scripts and we try to have the stuff recorded on set,"said Zanitsch. Merchandising activities related to popular TV shows are also on the increase. The extent to which the importance of promotion has sunk in abroad was evident at the recent BPME convention in Seattle where more than 300 promotion executives from foreign countries were present. That represented about 10 per cent of the entire attendance and set a record in terms of international interest.

"I had a man from Lebanon asking me to create customized star promos," relates Scarfone.

International promotion executives emphasized over and over again the need for "a dialogue" with the stations abroad.

"We must get a better understanding of what they want and need so we can provide it. It's in our own interest," said Geffner.

This, of course, is easier for the big companies, like Warner Brothers, who now maintain promotion people in their branches abroad.

One of the frequent requests is for star tours, which are not easily arranged. When they do take place, they are usually hugely productive.

One of the problems encountered by the international promo group is the frequent lack of adequate publicity materials when it comes to programs acquired from the outside. "Quite often, they hand us a couple of pieces of color, and that's it," said Zanitsch. "Then we have to scramble around to try and get what we know is needed."

When it comes to in-house productions, the international requirements are made clear to the producers once it is obvious that a pilot will blossom into a series. At that point, the required photos are staged.

What neither the film nor the television industry has overcome is a technical gap--the lack of a process that allows taking a color still from a film or a tape frame. "Most of the time that just doesn't work out that well," said Zanitsch.
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Publication:Video Age International
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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